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Sleep and Short-Term Memory

Too Old To Run for Congress?

category_bug_ageism.gif On Saturday, I received a query from Huffington Post Live about appearing today on a panel discussion titled Too Old to Run? Circumstances prevented my participation but not my consideration of the question.

[NOTE: You can see the live discussion on HuffPost from 1PM to 1:30PM eastern U.S. time (10AM - 10:30AM Pacific) by clicking this link where the segment will be archived too for future viewing.]

The idea for the discussion on Huffpost came about from a story at The Atlantic website titled “Senator Frank Lautenberg is Too Old to Run for Reelection” written by Conor Friedersdorf.

A sampling of Friedersdorf's indictment of the New Jersey senator:

”He'd be starting a new term while fifteen years older than the average life-expectancy for American males. What are the odds he'd survive in adequate health until 2020?...

“...don't candidates owe their constituents the promise that, to the best of their ability to estimate, they'll be capable of finishing the job?

“At what point should voters consider age in general?...

“New Jersey Supreme Court justices must retire at 70.”

Well, I dunno – what were the odds of John F. Kennedy surviving until 1964? And New Jersey justices may be forced to retire, but U.S. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life. They may choose to retire, but they are otherwise expected to serve until the end.

I don't buy the death argument at all. Congress and the states deal with accidents, illnesses, resignations and deaths all the time.

In fact, since 1960, at least 34 senators have died in office and the republic did not fall.

If we were to seriously consider term limits for Congress members, what age should be the cutoff? How would that decision be arrived at? Who would make the decision?

Let us keep in mind, as we often state here, that people age at dramatically different rates. Capabilities at a given year of the far end of life are wildly individual and not the same.

I see no reason to mandate age limits and you never know, the country might even gain from some old-age-related wisdom if some elder pols hang around Congress beyond an expiration date set by an uninformed pundit.

What do you think?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Meryl Baer: No Class and Am I Crazy?


Age, physical condition, health issues - all things voters might want to consider, but shouldn't be limiting people running for office or serving. We've been well-represented by older Senators and Representatives over the years.

As long as his mind is sharp, I think age would be a plus, not a minus.

I think there are more significant issues to determine whether the candidate has the ability to run. Age should be one of the last factors considered. Many of our great politicians were very old when in office and many of our stupid ineffectual ones are young and serving right now.

Say what? All those Tea party types who got voted in are 'young' according to Congressional standards. What good has obstructionism done the country? Still, Cory Booker is a worthy candidate, so the people of New Jersey will make this decision.

Their ages have been the reasons several of my friends have cited for not running for office when I've asked why they did not. I think that anyone who gripes about how politicians do their jobs should have the common sense to seek election.
(Yes, I've served in a city council and have, since, run in two minor races that were won by conservatives - not unusual, here in KS!)

They didn't vote for you, Cop Car? What's the matter with Kansas?

Yes, I think 90 is too old to be a senator. I say step aside and give someone else a chance. To me, it seems egotistical; no one is irreplaceable. Retire gracefully and offer your expertise and support to your successor. Cory Booker is a better candidate for the senate from New Jersey.

Age 90 is getting up there, and the article does mention that Sen. Lautenberg had missed some important votes due to health problems. However, I'd venture a guess that some younger members did, too. People age at dramatically different rates.

I agree that Cory Booker is an excellent candidate, but I don't think age alone should be the determining factor. I say let the voters decide.

I think there should be an age limit on senators, congressmen and, above all, supreme court justices. Maybe 75?

If we're going to set age limits, why not stipulate that Supreme Court justices have to be at least 65? Let's require more life experience--maybe we'll get more wisdom along with more frequent turnover.

Meryl, Things like this can and do happen to any one at any age.

But, as you say, the information is there. You just need some time to come up with it.

I think of it as all the information from my whole life being on a metaphorical rolodex in my head. Sometime it takes a while to rifle through it for particular bits of info. that I know I know.

Oop, this is a comment on Meryl's story today.

I think the voter decides who is the best candidate for the postition from what is offered.

What bothers me is what is offered. In my newly convoluted congressional district the Democratic Party didn't even give a try.

Sorry if I am a little off subject but I'm still steaming about it.

I believe in term limits but not age limits. Let's face it the pollution in DC gets to everyone after a certain period of time. Age doesn't matter much.

Just look at those two guys who are the leaders in the Senate. They both seem to hate everything. A couple of grumpy old men to need to be retired.

That is ridiculous. So someone dies in office--and someone else steps in. Big deal. I see more reason to worry more about presidential candidates. Should Hillary Clinton run when she's 70? I don't know.

Leon Trotsky said "Oh age is the most unexpected of things that can happen to a man."
Mandatory retirement is a questionable practice.

I think extreme old age, even if the mind appears sharp, means resistance to new ideas, in other words, rigidity, and that this has physiological reasons. However, if people want to vote for old guys, like the late Sen.Thurmond for instance, it's just another voter mistake. Voters seem to like people who are stuck with a limited set of ideas. Plenty of young people are rigid as iron for non-physiological reasons.

Age has its benefits and drawbacks. An informed public will decide if it carries any weight or not but then an informed public is too often as rare as an 80 plus years congress person.

Larry, you are so right about the rarity of an informed public. In my view that's painfully evident in the tea party, which seems to consist primarily of those 65+, and the Far Right in general. But I suppose if they get what information they do have from Fox "News", that's to be expected.

What goes around comes around.

In 1982 when Mr. Lautenberg,then 58, ran against Rep.Millicent Fenwick, 72, for the Senate, he made her age an issue through insinuations that she might not be able to do the job.

On 2007 NJ commentator Steve Abudato wrote, "...You know how to tell when Frank Lautenberg becomes too old to be United States State Senator? When the voters decide to elect someone else...."

Candidates should be evaluated on their qualifications, not their birthdates.

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